In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, both America's paper of record (The New York Times) and its network of record (CNN) have declined to show Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on the grounds that they might offend Muslims. The decision to forgo publication of these highly relevant news images has sparked a robust debate about free speech, religion and media ethics. One question that seems to have been glossed over is whether or not the media have any obligations to the preferences of a religious group, or any group of people, in the first place.
As previously noted, the Times has a history of publishing artwork and cartoons that have offended both Jews and Christians. See its coverage of Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary" in 1999, which very much offended the Catholic League; an Iranian exhibition of "anti-Jewish art" in 2006; and an Iranian cartoonist's "anti-Jewish caricatures" in 2010. So, at least up until Dean Baquet's tenure as executive editor, which began last year, the Times' policy against "gratuitous insult" did not preclude offensive religious images.